There’s something about the holidays that just screams for a good murder. Maybe it’s the blizzard-bound isolation. Maybe it’s too much time with the family. Whatever the root, there are few things more sinister than a dead body and a single set of footprints leading off into the newly fallen snow. Agatha Christie herself responded to complaints of her books becoming too anemic. She answered with 1938’s Hercule Poirot’s Christmas with, what she described as, “a good violent murder with lots of blood.” Following you’ll find five of my favorite holiday mysteries. Each of these golden-age-worthy tales makes for a perfect evening curled up beside a roaring fireplace.
Hercule Poirot’s Christmas by Agatha Christie
There really is no better place to start. Christie fulfills her promise of a macabre murder with one of her best locked-room mysteries. To quote the daughter of the dead man, herself quoting from Macbeth, “Yet who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him?” Like the best Christies, Christmas has a fantastic climax, and the explanation bends the imagination without quite breaking it. Few will guess the real murderer, but most will enjoy having the holiday wool pulled over their eyes by such a master misdirector.
The Nine Tailors by Dorothy L. Sayers
Dorothy L. Sayers has a flair for dancing between the deep lines that separated the social classes in 20th century Britain. In this masterful mystery, her gentleman detective, Lord Peter Whimsey, finds himself snowbound in a parochial village as the holiday season sets in. The rustic locals are an odd lot of commoners, malcontents, eccentrics, and at least one murderer. When a mangled corpse appears found on top of a freshly buried coffin, Whimsey must look beneath the quiet veneer of village parish life and determine who would have committed such a heinous deed against a neighbor and more important perhaps — why?
Tied Up in Tinsel by Ngaio Marsh
Ngaio Marsh is famed for dreaming up outlandish situations that set the stage for ingenious murders. In Tinsel, her inscrutable Inspector Alleyn of the Yard is summoned to solve a holiday murder at a secluded manor house with far too many suspects. The master of house, you see, has solved his perennial servant problem by only hiring previously convicted murderers to staff his expansive estates. Clearly, he reasons, each of these individuals has killed before and thus would have no reason to do so again. The dead body would dare to disagree. It’s another brilliant set up and equally astounding solution from Marsh.
The Man with a Load of Mischief by Martha Grimes
In the quiet village of Long Piddleton, someone is counting down the days to Christmas like a macabre advent calendar — with one murder a day. The first body lies sealed in a keg of beer; the second tied to the post in front of the local pub. Two bizarre deaths in and Detective Chief Inspector Richard Jury is called to catch the culprit and save the holiday season. Longtime fans will celebrate Mischief for the first meeting between Jury and the indomitable Melrose Plant. First-time Martha Grimes readers will relish a classic deep dive into rural village life the author is famed for.
Midwinter Murder by Agatha Christie
If you only have minutes to spare between family obligations, check out this 2020 collection. The stories include every detective for whom she wrote — Poirot, Marple, Pyne, Tommy & Tuppence, and even Mr. Quinn. Everyone can find a tale to love. They include clever puzzles, holiday reminiscing, family traditions, and more. Each one offers a light diversion to take your mind off the relentless Christmas cheer. I’m an avid Christie reader and several of these sharp, tidy holiday tales had previously slipped past me. It’s a perfect Christmas gift for any Christie fanatic.
Love a good murder? Be sure to take a stab at Thou Shalt Not Kilt, a traditional Southern whodunnit with Scottish flavor. For my latest news and updates, follow me on Instagram and TikTok. Sign up for Fatal Fiction, my monthly mystery newsletter, and you’ll get a free download of Masters of Murder, my concise guide to the authors of mystery’s Golden Age.